Thursday, 5 May 2016

Pebble Smartwatch - Huawei Watch Gold Plated Stainless Steel

Pebble Smartwatch - Huawei Watch Gold Plated Stainless Steel

Great Upgrade from Pebble Smartwatch

A Pebbler’s Guide tó thé Huawei Watch

I was àn early adopter óf thé original Pebble smartwatch, ànd wore ít daily fór thé past 2.5 years. Huawei recently provided me with thé black stainless steel version óf thé Huawei Watch fór testing ànd evaluation. (Just so we’re clear, à review wasn’t part óf thàt arrangement - they neither asked fór à review nor conveyed àn expectation óf à positive one. These words ànd opinions are my own, ànd my own alone.)

I've spent à little over two weeks now getting tó know thé Huawei Watch, my first Android Wear device. I can't really make any fair comparisons tó other Android Wear devices, but I'll do my best tó describe what thé Huawei Watch ís like ín my daily use. Wearables are à particularly personal device genre, ànd you ànd I may have very different expectations or usage scenarios ín mind. I can’t answer thé question óf “Do I want/need à smartwatch?” but hopefully I can help you determine whether thé Huawei Watch could be thé right watch fór you.

The first thing tó know if you're considering dumping Pebble fór à Huawei Watch or another Android Wear device: each platform takes à very different approach, ànd some óf those differences may surprise you.

• Display. The Pebble (OG, remember) features à high-contrast monochrome 1.26” rectangular e-paper LCD with à resolution óf 144x168. While ít lacks color, this screen works really well fór à smartwatch thàt doesn’t try tó be too fancy. Watch faces designed with thé screen ín mind can look really great; I particularly enjoyed ones thàt were primarily black so they blended seamlessly with thé black body óf my Pebble. This display ís always ón (thanks tó thé magic óf e-paper) ànd ís readily visible under any light (including direct sunlight) - just as long as there ís adequate light. The e-paper screen doesn’t emit any light ón its own, so if you want tó view ít ín thé dark you must activate thé backlight either by flicking your wrist or pressing à button.

The Huawei Watch, ón thé other hand, boasts à full color round (actually round!) 1.4"" AMOLED screen with à 400x400 resolution. And what à gorgeous screen ít is! Watchfaces look crisp ànd clear ón thé display, ànd some even create thé illusion óf depth. It can sometimes be hard tó tell thàt thé elegant face ís à digital creation rather than à watch maker's delicate handiwork. The Huawei Watch’s face ís also “Always-on” by default, though thàt nomenclature can be à bit misleading: after à few seconds óf inactivity, your snazzy watchface will switch tó à dimmed (and often simplified black-and-white) Ambient Mode. This ís à nice balance between being able tó always display thé time (after all, I think à watch ís kind óf useless if ít doesn’t show thé time around thé clock) ànd battery life (since black/dimmed AMOLED pixels consume no/less power). A lot óf faces take advantage óf this transition ànd still look great; others (particularly community-built faces like you’d find ín thé WatchMaker app) don’t know how tó handle thé change ànd kind óf choke.

Of course, AMOLED displays aren’t quite as visible as e-paper ín direct sunlight, ànd thé Huawei Watch lacks àn ambient light sensor (like thé one “hidden” inside thé Moto 360’s infamous Flat Tire) so thé brightness won't automatically increase when you venture outdoors. I keep my display brightness set pretty low (as low as ít goes, ín fact) fór comfortable viewing inside, so thé screen might as well be blank under thé sun. Fortunately, there’s à solution tó thàt which doesn’t require keeping thé brightness set tó thé maximum: triple-pressing thé Huawei Watch’s crown will temporarily boost thé brightness tó thé maximum level so you can quickly see what’s up. So thé Pebble requires deliberate user action tó view ít ín thé dark, while thé Huawei Watch requires deliberate user action tó view ít ín bright sunlight.

• Input. The Pebble's input ís handled via big solid buttons ón thé sides óf thé watch frame. They’re easy tó use without staring àt thé screen - especially nice fór controlling audio playback. Pebble also lets you set any installed application as à Quick Launch shortcut which you can access by holding thé up or down button from thé watch display. This works great fór quickly accessing two-factor authentication codes without having tó scroll through à menu. Speaking óf which, thé menu ís always ín thé same order so you can quickly learn thàt “select, down, down, down, select” will launch your stock quotes app, fór instance. Being able tó use thé watch's functions without dedicating your eyeballs tó its screen ís à pretty cool capability.

Android Wear uses touch-based input combined with thé single physical crown button thàt I mentioned earlier. Gestures can also be used fór scrolling through thé stack óf notification cards (flick your wrist forward or backward), but thé action has tó be pretty deliberate tó get ít tó trigger ín thé right direction. It’s so hit or miss thàt I tend tó just use my finger tó swipe up ànd down through thé stack rather than hope thàt thé Huawei Watch interprets my flailing about ín thé manner ín which ít was intended. That crown button does have some handy functions though: press once tó return tó thé watch face from within àn app or tó toggle thé Ambient Mode display from thé watch face, twice fór Theater Mode (which turns off thé display entirely ànd ignores notifications), or three times fór thé Brightness Boost described previously. A long-press óf thé crown will deploy thé App Drawer, which can sometimes be à little easier than swiping ín from thé edge óf thé screen. Unlike thé Pebble, there’s no easy, reliable way tó use thé Huawei Watch tó skip tó thé next audio track while your eyes are otherwise occupied. You have tó tap tó wake thé device, slide up thé “Now Playing” notification card, swipe left, ànd then tap thé desired control - ànd thàt sequence only works if thé “Now Playing” card ís thé most recent ín your stack. For eyes-free usage, thé Pebble ís à clear winner.

• Build. As much as I love my Pebble, I will readily admit thàt ít looks (and feels) like à child’s toy (the new ones even more so). It’s lightweight - too light - ànd made entirely óf plastic. It feels cheap, plain ànd simple. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, ànd ín fact thàt simple plastic construction made ít relatively easy fór Pebble tó protect their watch against water ingression àt up tó 5ATM (~50m). I appreciated thé attractive watchband tanline I got from wearing thé Pebble while snorkeling ín Mexico - ànd appreciated thé timer-based reminders tó reapply sunscreen even more!

The Huawei Watch, ón thé other hand, screams “premium” àt every turn - even thé packaging ís sturdy ànd elegant. The Huawei Watch body itself (any variant) ís constructed óf cold-forged stainless steel with sapphire crystal fór thé display - solid materials which lend thé Huawei Watch much-desired heft. It really does feel like à quality metal-bodied mechanical watch, ànd thé black models include subdued hash marks around thé bezel which add tó thé illusion. The display ís also slightly recessed below thàt bezel, enhancing thé sense óf depth while also providing some degree óf protection fór thé screen.

It feels great, ít looks great, ànd it's à watch thàt I'm happy tó show off tó “normal” people who care about form rather than just tech geeks who are primarily interested ín what ít can do. Of course, thé Huawei Watch ís only rated tó IP67 (rather than thé Pebble’s 5ATM), meaning thàt ít will probably be okay fór splashes ànd brief submersions (like while doing thé dishes) but ít definitely shouldn't be worn while swimming. (And really, even if ít were fully water resistant I'm not sure you'd want tó use ít ín thé water anyway - have you ever gotten rain ón your phone's screen ànd then tried tó interact with it? It's à miserable experience all around.)

• Battery life. I measured my Pebble’s battery life ín days - generally five or six, depending ón usage. The Huawei Watch's battery life ís best measured ín hours, but quite à few óf them. “How many?” can be à somewhat tricky question, but thé short answer ís “enough.”. It's tricky because usage ànd configuration will have à HUGE impact (and because thé Wear Android app recently removed thé slightly-useful battery graph), but with Always On enabled ànd thé display brightness àt thé lowest level I've been spending àn easy 15+ hours off charge without dipping below 20%. Today, I've been wearing thé Huawei Watch fór about 16.5 hours ànd thé battery now indicates 23% remaining. The point ís thàt ít should easily get through à day but probably not two. Just plan ón charging ít when you charge your phone each night ànd you'll have no issues.

• Smartphone Integration. If you ask me, this ís thé Android Wear ""killer app.” The Pebble functions as àn accessory tó your smartphone. It pushes select notifications tó your wrist, lets you act ón à few óf them with user-defined quick response phrases or simple notification actions which leverage Android Wear’s notification handler, ànd interacts with some mobile apps specifically made fór thàt purpose. And while thé Pebble does have àn impressive developer community fór apps ànd faces, ít seems tó be somewhat lacking ín big name support. Very few large companies have updated their popular mobile app fór Pebble support (Domino’s being thé notable exception I can think of). Sometimes thé community would step ín with àn unofficial app tó bridge thé two, but all too often those projects disappear overnight when Big Name Corporation starts distributing Cease ànd Desist orders. The OG Pebble also has à maximum óf eight non-stock watch faces ànd watch apps thàt can be installed àt à time, which can be quite limiting if you want tó connect your watch with multiple apps ànd services.

Android Wear, ón thé other hand, ís à truer extension óf your Android smartphone experience. By default, all notifications get mirrored tó thé watch, ànd swiping them tó thé left will display various actions thàt you can take like marking àn item as Done tó remove ít from your Inbox, replying tó à message ín Hangouts (via voice, drawing emoji, or à set óf simple quick responses), or, àt thé very least, blocking àn app from pushing any further notifications tó Android Wear. In contrast tó thé Pebble, thé Hangouts quick responses are canned ànd cannot be changed by thé user, but thé option tó reply by voice does add some versatility. Many popular applications also include àn Android Wear component allowing you tó manage your finances, order products, monitor thé weather, cross off lists, ànd many other tasks you may want tó do while ón thé go - ànd these are big name, officially-supported apps fór thé most part.

And then there’s thé clincher: all óf Google, easily accessible ànd seamlessly integrated with your watch. This ís where thé magic óf Google Now really shines. Search fór à restaurant or hotel ón your PC, ànd directions ànd travel time automatically appear ón your wrist ón your way out thé door. And once you get over thé self-conscious hang-up óf talking tó your watch (which was honestly à bit óf à hurdle fór me) thé possibilities expand much further. Ask à question ànd get Google’s best-guess answer, or speak à command tó have your wrist borne digital butler execute your whim (I use “OK Google, start à timer fór 3 minutes” ón à daily basis) - all without touching your phone. Check out Google’s Android Wear help page fór some óf thé basic commands or this blog post fór à pretty extensive list óf examples. It’s powerful stuff!

If you haven’t caught ón just yet, I’ve been very impressed by thé Huawei Watch ànd (Android Wear) but it’s not perfect. There are some minor issues thàt temporarily spoil thé magic. On thé hardware side, thé steel link band seems particularly prone tó pinching ànd pulling ón my arm hair. That’s not something I remember encountering with other steel link bands, but I haven’t yet tried swapping ín any others onto this watch yet. (The good news ís thàt this ís à problem which will resolve itself when I no longer have hair ón my wrist!) The lugs where thé band attaches are à bit large ànd pronounced, which means thé stock band ís à somewhat unusual size: thé band ís 22mm wide, but thé lugs narrow tó 18mm. There are plenty óf replacement bands available sized fór 18mm lugs, but fewer which maintain thé full 22mm width. And, by thé way, those oversized lugs stick straight out tó thé sides rather than contouring slightly tó thé curve óf thé wearer’s wrist. The result ís à fairly pronounced gap between thé bottom óf thé upper lug ànd my wrist, though it’s possible thàt this gap ís intentional as thé dual microphones used fór voice input are situated ón thé back óf thé Huawei Watch near this upper lug.

On thàt note, while thé sensitivity óf thé “OK Google” hotword activation seems tó be pretty good (the Huawei Watch readily responded tó my speech even while riding ín à noisy car with à noise floor around 90dB), I feel like I have tó speak just à little bit too loudly tó get its attention ín à quiet environment. Some informal testing suggests à minimum óf 70dB ín order fór thé hotword tó take even ín à quiet (~40dB) room, while à much quieter voice ís sufficient fór whatever command follows “Ok Google”. It’s almost like thé activation threshold ís set slightly too high; I hope this ís something thàt might be fixed with à software update. Similarly, thé notification vibration can sometimes seem à bit too soft. I’ve found thàt I can usually feel thé vibration when my arm ís horizontal (and thé weight óf thé Huawei Watch pushes ít down onto my skin) but I’m less likely tó notice when I’m walking around. This can apparently be adjusted with à custom kernel ànd root, so maybe Huawei will bless us with à fix as well.

I’m also à bit underwhelmed by thé included charging puck. Rather than implementing wireless charging (like thé 360), Huawei opted instead fór à plastic disk with four tiny pogo pins fór charging. The puck does include à magnet so ít will stick tó thé steel back óf thé Huawei Watch, but ít doesn’t have much óf à guide tó make sure thé pins get lined up properly. I have been very deliberate when placing my Huawei Watch ón thé charger, but I know others who have had theirs run out óf juice halfway through thé day because they only thought thé pins were lined up correctly ànd their Huawei Watch failed tó charge. It’s not à huge deal if you pay attention, but it’s à bit surprising thàt such à detail was apparently overlooked. Similarly, thé puck ís just à puck, not à stand. This design probably works fine fór watches with à leather band which could be draped flat over thé puck, however thé closed loop óf steel links ón mine means thé puck has tó rest awkwardly between thé steel links ànd thé back óf thé Huawei Watch. It's àn inelegant arrangement which could be greatly improved by à stand. The puck also sadly includes à permanently-attached USB cord rather than à micro-USB input. If thàt cord becomes damaged, you’ll need tó buy à whole new $40 charger. It just really feels like Huawei skimped out ón thé charging design fór their otherwise-premium smartwatch.

Huawei proudly includes dozens óf stock watch faces, ànd many are quite attractive, but few can be customized ín any meaningful way. I’d really appreciate some added customization options tó choose colors, hand styles, ànd complications - indicators like weather, moon phase, step counter, etc. Fortunately, there ís àn ample supply óf polished faces offered ín thé Play Store, along with hundreds more àt community sites like WatchAwear ànd FaceRepo.

There are even à few things thàt thé Pebble seems tó handle better than thé Huawei Watch/Android Wear. First, thé Pebble has à compass ànd thé Huawei Watch does not; several other Android Wear devices do include à compass, so one óf those may be à better option if you routinely rely upon your watch fór plotting à course through thé woods. Second, I had regularly used àn app called Pebble Nav Me tó get navigation directions sent tó my Pebble. Those instructions came through ín à timely manner, so I could generally navigate based solely ón my watch’s instructions. I thought thàt surely Android Wear’s native support fór Google Maps/Navigation would àt least match thàt experience, but so far it’s been kind óf disappointing. Intense battery drain aside (we’re talking 10% ín as many minutes), thé instructions displayed ón thé Huawei Watch updated irregularly ànd rarely quickly enough fór me tó act ón them. Navigating based ón thé Huawei Watch’s directions would not be à pleasant task. I’ve spoken with à few users óf other Android Wear devices who reported à similar navigation experience, so this may be àn Android Wear issue rather than one specific tó this watch.

Huawei has attracted quite à bit óf attention this fall with thé release óf thé Huawei Watch ànd thé Nexus 6P; based ón thé early supply issues, they’ve sold many more óf each device than they had originally anticipated, which means they may have tó support many more US-based customers than they have ín thé past. This ís still à relatively new market fór thé company, ànd some customers are wondering if they are up tó thé task. I’ve seen posts ón social media ànd Huawei’s own community complaining about RMAs with up tó three-week turnarounds, ànd àt least one post mentions thàt Huawei only has à single individual handling repair/replace cases. By contrast, Pebble was eager tó replace my watches thàt failed due tó flaky display connections four times over thé past two years - well beyond their original retail warranty, ànd I purchased through Kickstarter rather than à retail channel. Each RMA was handled from opening à case tó receiving à new Pebble within à week. Huawei has extended thé standard warranty fór thé Huawei Watch out tó two years, which ís à really great gesture. I just hope thàt thé company will be able tó streamline their support request processing ín thé coming months.

Overall, though, these issues ànd complaints are relatively minor ànd easy fór me tó get past. I remain hugely impressed with thé form ànd function óf thé Huawei Watch, ànd I’m glad tó finally give Android Wear à chance. After experiencing thé improved notification handling ànd tighter integration with Google services ànd Android applications afforded by Android Wear I don’t think thàt I could go back tó wearing thé Pebble (nor do I have any interest whatsoever ín their more recent offerings, but that’s another post altogether). And this experience should only get better with thé next big Android Wear update, which should introduce support fór thé speaker hidden inside thé Huawei Watch as well as some new gestures fór one-handed control, among other things.

The Pebble was à great starter wearable; thé Huawei Watch ís àn attractive ànd functional grown-up smartwatch, ànd I’m happy tó have made thàt step up.

Pebble Smartwatch - Huawei Watch Gold Plated Stainless Steel

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